Gravestones

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Staring at that house again, I didn't want to go in. My sweat-soaked palm clutched the handle of my beat-up leather suitcase. Somehow, knowing all I had was in there wasn't nearly as scary as the thought of walkin' in that house. When you run from a place the way I ran from that house, you don't just come back. But the belongings inside my bag weren't everything I owned, they were everything I had. I now had the deed for this land, this house, the deed for what I now owned, but I didn't have this place. It had me.

I grabbed the copper door handle, and I'm seven years old again. The door slams behind me only to be opened again by Joshua. He can't keep up with me; he's only five. Our little feet patter along the floor boards to the table where our sisters sit, waiting. Joshua whines in hunger and Papa snaps and yells at him. Mama pleads with him to be quiet, but it doesn't matter none; the quieter she's whispered to him over the months, the louder he's hollered. She coughs and he puts his arm around her, gently, lovingly, the way he's been with us less and less.

My heavy boots clunked along the floorboards as I walked past the same table, but it now faced North instead of West. It made the kitchen seem smaller, more cramped than it already was. Maybe it was because when you're a child everything seems so big and open, and when you're grown you know you're looking down at the ground instead of up at the ceiling. I stared into their room. The sheets were stretched over the bed neat and tidy, the way she'd always left them. But these weren't the sheets my Mama died in.
I stepped into the doorway. He is sitting in the rocking chair and blocking the view of the bed. I step in a bit, as much as I dare, and I hear the silence for the first time. His face is blank and he strokes her unnaturally pale hand. It don't matter though, 'cause she ain't even coughing now. She'll never cough again.

I turned away from the door way and walked to the fireplace. I stared at the dark corner on the far side of the room and my heart started thumping in my chest, so hard I could feel it against my ribs. I sit in the corner; the cold floor makes my feet numb. My jaw aches and I can feel the bruises forming in the demanding shape of his knuckles. I've been sitting here so long in this damp corner, but I don't dare move until I'm told. I just watch him kiss his bottle by the fire. My eyes move to that shadowed doorway. I curse God for taking them both away from me. That bottle brushes his lips and I know his body just ain't caught up with his soul yet; I know my daddy died the day she stopped whispering.

I walked up the stairs, and they still creaked just like they did back then. The railing still wobbled a bit and I recalled thinking how pointless it seemed to me, to have a railing that wasn't even sturdy that was supposed to sturdy you.

Our bedroom door was ajar and I walked right in. Joshua sits next to me on the big bed, playing with a small red ball. He rolls it from one hand to the other. Shannon and Sharon sit on the floor. Sharon braids Shannon's hair so they'll match. They like to match; I figure that's what twins do. I wonder for the millionth time if they're really just one girl split apart because their actions match up so good. Sharon's little hands move through Shannon's hair and I think it's pretty. Everything they do is so pretty. I hear Papa downstairs; he's talkin' to her ghost again, saying 'Elizabeth, you need to lie down. You're wearing yourself out.' I watch the little ball roll back and forth.

I sank onto the bed again in the same spot and I stared at where my sisters sat that day. I felt guilty that all I ever thought about the things they did was that they were 'pretty.' I never appreciated how truly beautiful and wonderful they were. Maybe it was because I was too young, and all my mind could muster was pretty.

I swallowed in a dry throat. I always did when I thought about their matching hair and that little red ball. I still do. I went downstairs and out the back door. I stuck my hands deep in my coat pockets and looked down the road that wrapped around the farmland and went into the forest. My heart was beating so slow; I thought I must be dying. And, like so many other times, I wished I really was.

My eyes wandered down that road and I gulped. Joshua asks me if I want to come into town with him, the girls, and Papa. He is excited because they might get candy, but I know better. I know it's not a long drive. But I stare grudgingly at my father and I don't want to go anywhere with that monster. Besides, I know if I don't keep doing the chores they'll never get done 'cause he'll just be too drunk. They get in our car, Josh waves and I nod. It's a cold nod. I turn and walk back toward the house. The car enters the forest and after a few moments, I hear a loud crash. I run after it as fast as I can. I find our car off the road, smashed to bits against a tree. I stand still, paralyzed. My heart pounds and I silently scream for something to move but nothing does, no one does. My eyes shift to the ground where I see a broken bottle, still half full, next to the little red ball. There is a small hand reaching out from under the car. I recognize the scar on Joshua's wrist. He's reaching, lifelessly. But I can't tell what he's reaching for, the bottle, or his red ball. I fume inside and my eyes get hot. I turn away and I run, and I run. I don't stop, and I keep moving, and I keep running, for fourteen years.

My heart started pounding again as I walked to the side of the house. When I was at the city office getting the deed, I asked if anyone had lived in that house since we did. The lady said yes, someone did for a while. I nodded and then I asked her if the bodies were ever buried, hoping to God she'd say yes. She did, and she said the gravestones were on the side of the house. I asked her who buried them, but she didn't know.

So as I walked to the graves, I shook. This was something I had never seen before, the only thing I had never seen before. This would someday be a memory. There they were. The breath caught in my chest and I coughed as I began to cry. Five grave stones.

I'd often wondered about this place. It seemed that no matter where I'd run to, it wasn't ever somewhere I belonged. Not that those places didn't feel like home, some did. And not that I wasn't happy or anything, 'cause sometimes I really was. But it seemed the further I ran from here, the closer to I was to it again. And I finally knew why as I stared at those gravestones. Jacob Thomas: 1883-1913. Elizabeth Thomas: 1881-1910. Shannon Thomas: 1903-1913. Sharon Thomas: 1903-1913. Joshua Thomas: 1904-1913. There was a space though, between Mama and Shannon. Whoever buried them all like that left a space for me, Jacob Thomas Jr. I don't know who it was; maybe God came down and arranged them like this. Maybe He knew if He did, I'd be back.

It's a funny thing, knowing where you belong. This is where it all started, and this is where it'll end. When you run from a place the way I ran from this house, you have to come back. I'd had a lot of blame locked up inside me for fourteen years. But then I knew that it wasn't about blame; it was about fate. And you can't have fate. Just like I never had this place; it had me.





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